Let’s say you made $11 Billion from a drug that killed more than half a million Americans. Would you consider it a good deal to give back $4.5 Billion in exchange for legal protection of your right to keep the remaining $6.5 Billion? Sure, who wouldn’t. But who would consider the deal a fair one?
If you knew that millions of corporate documents spelling out how your people lied about the drug’s addictive properties and how they bribed doctors to overprescribe it to vulnerable patients could never be used against you in court, would agreeing to put them into an archive for scholars and journalists to investigate long after the fact square your account with justice?
And if you were licensed to deny forever personal responsibility for the millions of lives ruined or ended because of felonies your company confessed to, would those denials clean your slate?
The Sackler family, the people behind Purdue Pharma, the makers of Oxycontin, the pocketers of those 11 Billion dollars in estimated profits, are the ones who agreed to kick back the $4.5 Billion and to release those millions of company documents in exchange for a court-sanctioned settlement that lets them continue to claim to have a good name, knowing that no one will ever be allowed to sue them to smear it with more awful facts.
“I don’t think anybody would say that justice has been done,” said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who closely followed the Sackler/Purdue case, “because there’s just so much harm that was caused, and so much money that has been retained by the company and by the family. But this is what the legal system is going to produce.”
Chris McGreal writes for Guardian US and is a former Guardian correspondent in Washington, Johannesburg and Jerusalem. He is the author of American Overdose, The Opioid Tragedy in Three Acts.